Building Your Business: Seeing the World, Part 1

Participants in EPT Design’s TREK program have traveled the world, seeking inspiration and renewal. They bring back a new perspective on their work that imbues the firm with creative energy. Image courtesy EPT Design.If you happen to be fortunate enough to work at EPT Design, a landscape design firm with offices in Pasadena and Irvine, and have a hankering to check out what’s happening with, say, playgrounds in the Netherlands or dry gardens in Australia, you’re in luck. For the past decade or so, the company has offered the TREK program, which gives two staffers each year the chance to travel and explore.

The program (TREK stands for Travel, Renewal, Exploration, Knowledge) got its start over a decade ago when Nord Eriksson and his partners Matthew Hall and Stephen Carroll started thinking about their own travel experiences. “We got really rejuvenated and inspired,” says Eriksson. “We talked about our travels in the office and in client meetings.”

From there, it was a few steps to discussing “how much we wished our staff could benefit and how we could trigger it,” he says. “We wanted them to travel, be renewed, explore and gain knowledge. They would benefit personally and also bring back information to share.” With that, TREK was set in motion.

The program is set up as a competition. Employees are invited to submit proposals, and at a dinner, a jury composed of staff and clients, evaluates them. “The ones that win have demonstrated a really strong central idea, provide specifics relative to what they’re going to do, demonstrate some research and have some specific, measurable goals that gets the jury fascinated,” Eriksson explains.

While benefitting the employees themselves, the TREK program has also had a meaningful impact on the direction of the firm, as returning participants get a chance to present and share their experiences with their colleagues. A trip to Portland, Oregon, revealed an ingenious rainwater-collection system—the photos of which “circulated in the office like wildfire,” says Eriksson. Another employee’s trip to Paris to study urban gardens has also inspired and shaped thinking at the firm.

TREK has proven to be a great draw in recruiting prospective employees, since it provides a quick and easy way to see “what we are about,” notes Eriksson. “It’s a very good way to showcase our culture.” Of course, it’s impossible to overstate the personal piece: “The real gift is that people’s world views change,” he says. “You see the world through other’s eyes and realize and appreciate where you come from.” 

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